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Posts Tagged ‘John the Elder’

I have delayed writing another post regarding the authorship of John, because I wished to do further research. Is it appropriate to admit from the beginning that I find no solution that totally satisfies all the questions I have? I hope this does not disturb you; it is simply the way real things are, and in my mind it reinforces the authenticity of the Gospel. If someone wanted to write a gospel in the name of John (although the gospel never does that), we should expect all the elements to fit together and difficulties either ignored or smoothed out. The very fact that there are questions tells me we are dealing with a legitimate work. Rather quickly, I want to suggest some of the possible answers to the question of who wrote the Gospel of John.

One writer wrote a comment on my last post with a link to an e-book in which he defends the position that Lazarus wrote the gospel attributed to John. I can think of a number of reasons why that might be an attractive choice, but rather than trying to defend that view, I would suggest you download his e-book yourself (it is free).

I recently read a book by a fairly conservative scholar who believes that this gospel was written by the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” whom he identifies with “John the Elder,” a close disciple of Jesus, but one who was not one of the twelve apostles. There is considerable evidence that someone referred to as “John the Elder” was perhaps a disciple of Jesus and that some of the books of the New Testament may have been written by him. I would especially consider 2 and 3 John as likely. Some would also include Revelation; however, I have not studied this enough to comment.

Then we come to the traditional view that  the author of the fourth gospel was John the apostle, one of the sons of Zebedee. If one accepts ancient tradition as having any value, this view has almost universal support. Actually, except for some “heretical” writings referred to by Irenaeus, virtually no one questioned the apostle John’s authorship until the eighteenth century and the rise of modern criticism.

Further support can be traced back even further. Eusebius quotes Irenaeus as saying that Polycarp (AD 69-155)  knew John, and apparently it was from Polycarp that Irenaeus got his understanding that John, the apostle, wrote the fourth gospel. This view is also supported by Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) and the Muratorian Canon (AD 170-200).

It is generally recognized that the Gospel of John has a number of Semitic elements and was written by someone for whom Greek was probably not his native language. I make no pretense at being qualified to address the Semitic elements except to note that the author sometimes transliterates Aramaic words into Greek letters, especially the word “Messiah” (4.25) and proper names (1.42). I only list two examples of several in the gospel. I can attest from my fairly elementary knowledge of Koine Greek that the gospel of John employs relatively simple vocabulary and grammar. It was the only Greek readings course I took beyond the basic grammar course, because it is perhaps the simplest book in the Greek New Testament to read.

Could the apostle John have written the fourth gospel? This is where we get into some difficulties. I regret that I cannot examine all the issues involved because of space limitations. The issues are huge and highly complex. Instead I wish to address a few of the more prominent questions.

John, along with his brother James, is addressed as one of the “Sons of Thunder,” and in one instance they want to call down the wrath of God on a village. The gospel of John does not appear to have been written by someone with that kind of temperament. I can only think of one possible resolution to that question. If tradition is correct, the gospel was written late in the first century. Is it possible that over perhaps 50 years or more the transforming power of the gospel actually changed John’s temperament and personality so that the “Son of Thunder” was transformed into the apostle of love? As a Christian, I certainly believe in the transforming power of the gospel. I would love for this to be one example of that happening.

Finally, I want to repeat something I mentioned in my last post. If John the apostle is not the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” then that very prominent apostle does not even appear in the fourth gospel which very ancient tradition ascribed to him. I cannot conceive a gospel written in the late first century that makes no reference at all to such a prominent apostle. If not the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” just where is the apostle John in the fourth gospel?

It has been argued that the description of Jesus as a preexistent deity could not have come from a direct follower of Jesus, because this was a later doctrine of the church; however, I believe this supposition involves a logical fallacy (Remember when people studied logic?). To presuppose what Jesus did or did not claim about Himself and then reject anything that contradicts that presupposition is circular reasoning. I cannot prove that Jesus on earth claimed to be incarnate deity. At the same time, I don’t see how anyone else can prove He did not.

At the same time, I acknowledge that this understanding of Jesus may have developed over time, especially with the influence of Paul’s writings. So, it is very possible that John would not have understood this clearly at the beginning, but came to accept it over the years. And this could explain why the fourth gospel is so different from the Synoptics. John is not writing to give the life of Jesus or to prove His miracles and healings. The Synoptics cover that quite well. Indeed, he may have written late in the first century, especially to present Jesus as God Incarnate, a picture that is not as clearly taught in the Synoptics. I must admit I am puzzled as to why John would not include the Transfiguration which would certainly support that view. Honesty compels me to admit I do not have the answer to that.

So I am back where we started. I tend to accept the traditional authorship of John, but must acknowledge that unanswered questions remain. I must leave the issue with that. It will not be the last time I will admit I don’t know the answer. If you choose to follow my blog, I you will have to get used to the limitations of my knowledge.

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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